A Tot-ally Messy Time

I had been wanting to go to this play centre and area of discovery for both tiny tots and bigger kids for a while now. The reasons were three-fold:

  • It was in my town.
  • I have a child, and wanted to see how much fun it would be for her, and
  • I wanted to compare it against The Hungry Peacock, where I had been to twice since my first visit as part of a blogging experience in 2016.

It was a little bit cheeky, but I went in with these thoughts in mind. Which was superior? Which would keep the kids entertained more? What was, similar? I have it on insider knowledge that the peeps who started The Hungry Peacock with the existing owners, well they had wanted to do things a different way and clearly had other kids play area ideas in mind… and so The Messy Shed rebelliously was born from those peeps, to formulate those ideas into reality.

It was the Autumn school hols that saw me take baby girl along to meet with her two cousins and their Mum, for a midweek visit. We were booked for a 10:30am session, as there are times that you pick online, or when you call in… however on arrival we decided to also add the play centre addition, for an extra $5. The kids would get messy and creative and do all kinds of things for 45 minutes, before continuing the fun in the play centre area, for as long as they liked.

We got in nice and early, so the 3 girls, two aged 5 and one at 2, had a good go at exploring before more kids arrived.

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Sorting in a scavenger hunt.

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Water play and squirting.

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Sand art and castles.

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Pretend house.

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Make your own tube tunnels.

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Various games and tasks.

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And my fave… the swing!

This one got pretty busy after baby girl had her go, and the line turned long very quickly. Kids climbed onto a low hammock type swing, tummy down, and were given a piece of chalk to draw on the floor with while they pushed themselves around with their feet… even I wanted to do that one!

To my amusement and wonder I noticed a nearby corner where a kids hairdresser was located! It was partitioned from the rest of the messy area, but was clearly visible… why, how CLEVER.

Play, and then… “let’s cut your hair Tommy!”

😉

Lots of Mums had gotten coffees from the nearby café offering café-style simple treats and drinks, but we wanted to save ourselves, and wait for after…

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45 minutes was plenty of time for our girls, and perhaps too long. Our older girls in particular were finding themselves walking around and repeating the same tasks, and I had to wonder then, had they outgrown the ‘messy play’ stage, or was it something else?

I thought of the two times I had taken baby girl to The Hungry Peacock, and quickly realised… The Messy Shed had activities geared slightly towards the younger child. The Hungry Peacock, the older child.

As soon as the 45 minutes were up we were off, grabbing a table in the adjoining room so we could watch our kiddies run around an indoor playground, and drink coffee and eat some chips while doing so.

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They were having a great time, but I don’t need to tell you that… playcentre, kids, they are synonymous with GOOD TIME.

We were there for a while when we saw the side door to the right of the large room, that seemed to be the gateway for another play area…

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It is called Totsville, an interactive town, where kids can act out different roles usually assigned to adults, but in smaller form, so they can join in on the exploration and fun! We saw a number of kids going in and out, and after seeing some adults on the other side supervising their broods, we decided stuff it, ‘let’s also go to Totsville.’

Baby girl’s cousins Mum bought us ‘access’ and so we went to wait for the hour to be up so the last group could head out, before we could go in.

And after discussing with her how we thought The Hungry Peacock had more activities for our 5 year old girls to be enjoying, suddenly, we were eating our words.

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It was really, really good.

They stayed in there for the whole hour, not bored at all. They put on uniforms, acted out roles as roadworkers, postal service workers, vets, sailors, and café assistants amongst other things. We helped them out and played with them at times, letting them cater to us with their ‘pretend’ coffees.

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😉

It was a great time, and a terrific concept… the only issue we found was, for a play area that was only garnered for those who paid to enter, with new groups accessing it on the hour, well there was no one keeping score.

We counted a whole lot of kids who went in and out, not accompanied by any adult, and with no staff nearby to check.

Had those kids really paid? Were they bored by it? Could we have gotten away with not paying either?

Of course we did pay, but yet we felt a little foolish after seeing the free-for-all for Totsville and all the kids coming and going as they pleased. Otherwise, the concept was terrific. Staffing in that area… not so much.

After that, the girls had a few more runs through the play centre area, and then it was time to go… we had possibly exceeded our longest ever time for a play catch up, it was hitting 3 hours, and The Messy Shed was closing!

Was that a good sign? Yes, yes it was. 🙂

The deets:

The Messy Shed is at Factory 4 & 5, 1 Watt Road in Mornington

It is open 9:30am to 2:30pm every day of the week.

For further info call them on (03) 5975 2080, or alternatively go to their website for more information or to book a session – www.playatthemessyshed.com.au

Messy play sessions are at 9:30am, 10:30am and 11:30am. They last for 45 minutes and are $10, but pre-walkers are FREE!

The play centre access is $7 per child, or $15 if purchased in a Messy Play/Play centre combo.

Totsville is $10 for an hour of exploration.

You can throw a birthday party for your child there, and there is a hairdressing corner… contact them at the info above for more details.

Tips:

Definitely book! Messy play sessions can get busy!

From my personal experience, the messy area is better for younger kids, though the swing is a pretty cool contraption.

The indoor playground is great for kids of all ages (watch out for the top tunnels as little ones can get stuck up there, have an older child on hand is great!)

Totsville is great for all kid ages too, with a slight emphasis on older kids, as they discover, act out and experiment with the mini-sized world around them.

My final verdict?

Hmm, a tough one to weigh up. There are pros for both The Hungry Peacock and The Messy Shed.

Peacock has ample room surrounding their proper café. The Shed has a café, with seating surrounding the play area.

They both have messy sessions… I feel Peacock is geared slightly towards older kids, with the Shed aimed at the younger tikes.

The Shed has Totsville… Peacock has outdoor play areas (play subject to weather of course) and play equipment in and around the café (separate from the messy area).

The Shed has a hairdresser… Peacock has a refurbished church for hire.

Both do birthday parties.

Peacock also does kids classes and a school holiday program.

Where does all this leave my conclusion?

For a more in depth review of The Hungry Peacock, click here to go to my review of the place.

Other than that I can say this with assuredness.

Both have a place.

The Messy Shed messy area is great for younger kids, while the play centre and Totsville ideal for older kids on cold and rainy days, where you can sit and watch them, protected by the elements, enjoying some café fare and a coffee.

The Hungry Peacock’s messy area I think is better suited to older kids. The inside and outdoor areas are for both, and for a decent feed I would go here. Also, on a sunny day, it would be lovely to sit out.

Both places are very different, yet cater for almost identical things.

Yet I think there is enough dirty play for both to exist. 😉

 

 

 

 

Long queue no biggie at Longrain

Longrain Melbourne
40-44 Little Bourke street Melbourne

(Visited May ’18)

Well, late May and it was turning out to be a restaurant-heavy week. From the streets off Mornington Main, to Fed Square, to then, the laneways of Melbourne CBD, that last week was seriously bringing it all.

But what exactly WOULD the final hurrah of Autumn bring?

It was a cold night, the Winter settling in a touch earlier and letting us know who was on its way. I found car park within a raised building about a block away and walked over to Little Bourke to wait it out and see who else of my friends would arrive for our overdue catch-up.

Unfortunately for us no one had thought to book. Boo. Once myself and some others were there, waiting for more to arrive, we went inside to put ourselves on a waitlist that the front of house was more than happy to attend to.

Then we went back outside in the Friday cold night, to what else…

Talk.

We talked and talked and talked. We waited and talked for what seemed like 30 minutes. Once our entire party was there we headed in to see if they had something ready for us, but alas we were a tad off –

NEVERMIND. We were seated on the side of the restaurant, kind of like a waiting bay, where some waiters very graciously attended to us.

Drink? Sure I’ll have a drink. I perused the menu and after a couple nearby gave me their not-very-sober two cents, I ordered the Red Dragon cocktail.

Red Dragon – Chilli infused Ketel One Vodka, Peach liqueur, raspberries, coriander, cranberry

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WOAH. Talk about chilli. This had certain, definite, ain’t-no-denying-it, KICK. I sipped and slurped and there were all these other authentic chunky bits floating in my drink, like coriander leaves and little cranberries, and it was just super vibrant and PHWOAR.

I was actually worried I would be feeling it for days, you know… Happy to report that did not happen! 😉

We weren’t there awfully long before we were taken to a round table, so appropriate for the restaurant indeed…

With turntable.

Because share plates was the name of the game here peeps, at Longrain. Sure there were dishes you could certainly order individually, but the turntable enabled a sense of sharing is caring, a oneness with those around you, and a communal atmosphere.

So let’s see how that went.

After a lot of deliberation and careful negotiation with others at the table (you don’t wanna order the same thing now do you) I ordered the –

Green curry, roasted pumpkin, heirloom carrots, apple and pea eggplant

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Of course the dim lighting doesn’t do the variety nor the detail in the meal justice, but even so just as the lighting was underwhelming, so too was my meal.

It was basically a whole chunk of pumpkin in an extremely spicy broth with a variety of other vegies to boot. $30 for really spicy pumpkin. It tasted great, I won’t deny that, but essentially that was it. I thought I was going to spontaneously combust at one stage, what with the chilli coming forth from that meal, on top of my chilli-infused drink! Sweating much? I was reaching for water VERY often.

I did dabble in some other things on the table. There were rice sides, noodles, filled eggnet, and all manner of really fancy looking things zhuzh-ing up the table…

(Some things I tasted on the side)

But I felt a bit weird, mainly because there were some friends that had ordered specifically individually-minded, and others who were sharing. Where were the barriers? What could be had? What was to be shared? What was private? Lines were blurred and set and blurred again, so much so that I had a little of this and a little of that to settle that overwhelming heat, and then that was it.

Inner-city restaurant first world problems… I know.

After our food was cleared (and a lot packed into take-home boxes) we also got some coffees.

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My cappuccino was great, a really calming fix to all that had come before.

It had been a great night, company and all. With all of that fire raging through me, I was sure it would safely carry me through the cold night, and back to the refuge of my car…

Food: 7/10. The food presentation was sensational. Other meals were colourful and creative, yet mine, though tasty, lacked somewhat in individual satisfaction.

Coffee: 7/10. Mild.

Ambience: Really happening and bustling, but with a sense of off-the-beaten-track, hidden alleyway feel. Well duh. Little Bourke street, after all. It was moody, atmospheric, but be warned… those taking photos on their phones, your pics will come out looking like shit due to the mood lighting.

Staff: They were amazing. From the man who took our number down initially to seat us later, the guy who made small talk with us as we got our drinks, and then the waiter who so patiently waited for us while we ‘umm’ed and ‘ahh’ed and asked question after question over the menu… top scores here. Simply brilliant.

People: Lots of friends and dinner-after-work get together’s here. Oh so obvious. I mean we are in the city, right.

Price: $50 covered my meal and cap, and the extra covered the other food I had ‘dabbled’ in from a friend (!)

Advice: Share. Share Share Share.

Or, don’t share don’t share don’t share.

Make it known what is happening. And if you order the pumpkin, make sure you get something like rice on the side. Your mouth will thank you for it.

In a nutshell: Look, if you haven’t already guessed it, the theme at Longrain is sharing is caring… If you aren’t sharing, you aren’t really caring for you or others on the table now are you? Or things will just become awfully confusing and you won’t know where you stand.

So, make a stand! If you go here, make sure you know what you are doing, and order accordingly.

Me personally? Although the service was immaculate, I don’t think I would go back… being a Leo and all, when I catch my prey, I like to have it all to myself… Grains and all.

😉

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Longrain Melbourne Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Superfood Store

Store Fifteen
15 Main Street Mornington

(Visited April ’17)

Breakfast. I mean, it’s a lazy and rich man’s prerogative to have someone else make him breakfast, right? Perhaps the simplest of the three main meals, if you can have someone, more so, pay someone to provide you with this most fantastic of luxuries, well then, you are doing well.

Or maybe that was the case 10-15 years ago. Nowadays, it seems like most new Mums, students, hipsters in inner city-Melbourne, suits and even pensioners are getting in on the café-culture bandwagon and paying for the privilege to have their aerated muesli, gluten-free toast, or organically produced eggs, tomatoes and spinach leaves in a breakfast burrito, bought to them on an artisan piece of table-wear.

I for one, think it’s FANTASTIC. Not just the table-wear, but the breakfast too. I was perusing the local haunts in my fair town over on the Zomato site, when I came upon the most spectacular looking bowl of ‘something’ that I have ever feasted my breakfast-hungry-to-go-out eyes on.

I vowed then and there, that at the next opportune time, I would go there and eat the bowl. Of food that is.

Which is how I came to be at Store Fifteen, the beach end of Main street in Mornington, one sunny and still Autumn’s day in April. I had dropped off baby girl at kinder, and was unashamedly going to indulge in some much necessary and selfish (though not guilt-free) ME time.

I find it a bit nerve-wracking eating on my own. It is a freeing experience, one I think all people should try – but I always end up feeling all introvert-like rather than the confident “look at me people, I am my own best company!” version of myself I should be when I do this. It becomes sooo apparent I have no friends, when really the case is –  I have no friends… in Mornington. Sea changing has its advantages, and not-so ones when wanting to dine out with company, still so soon after a huge demographic shift.

I was a bit unsure of what to do, standing there awkwardly for a while, reading the menu in front of the coffee machine, while trying to work out where to order, where I should sit, and what I was going to eat.

Oh, and of course, I was trying to find the delicious bowl within the menu’s contents.

I could have easily sat outside in the glorious sun, if most spots hadn’t been taken. There are crate-like seats which you can plonk yourself onto, with quite low tables beside them, as well as a higher long table running beside the outer entrance looking in on the coffee making area, with adjacent stools. Inside there were more tiny tables and chairs, and I had to admit defeat and position myself on the smallest of those, but with the advantage of looking out into the glorious day.

I had ordered up at the counter right near the coffee machine, before settling into my position gazing inward out. It’s amazing what a difference a couple of blocks can do. Sure, the menu was very different – there was no run-of-the-mill eggs on toast here – and the distinct menu, as well as the industrial yet organic interior, certainly attracted a different type of customer. Wealthier and well-dressed folk came in here, even the gym-type junkie with the full face of make-up – yep, that type. The counter and coffee-making area held the right position of the first half of the store, with a long thin table placed up against the opposite wall, and then small tables dotted throughout. I was actually sitting on a sack style-stool of some sort, that was the kind of furnishings within – it made you feel like you had just pulled up whatever to sit on at the local man’s barnyard.

It wasn’t before long after my deep musings on the folk here began, that I received the first order of the day:

Chai Latte – Love Chai: An earthy and warming blend of aromatic spices, turmeric, organic tea, and Australian bush honey

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Now, this was a proper chai latte. Not the type you receive in other cafes, where the only preparation was adding milk to sachet of powder. No, this had spices and all manner of herby green looking stuff sticking out and threatening to spill over the sieve as I poured the liquid through to strain it. It was magnificent. But it was what was to be expected from a boutique café such as this.

I had gone the chai latte route instead of my usual cap, only because I was feeling sickly, and going to be coming face-to-face with David Boreanaz the next day… so you know. Had to look my best for Angel, and not be croaking like some demon.

And not too long after that, the main event, the star, the whole reason for my going there at all…

The Acai Bowl

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Just observe that work of art in all its glory. This consisted of an Acai berry blend smoothie base (contains soy) topped with house made superfood granola (contains nuts), fresh berries, coconut chips, goji berries, and activated buckinis. Buckinis you say? Well we were close to the beach. Buckinis/bikinis/schmuckinis. Yeah I don’t know what a buckini is either, other than to speculate that they must do well in Summer-time. The bowl tasted great, and there was huge crunch-effect, so if there on a date, or having to go to an interview later on, maybe skip that one for the occasion. It was also really, really cold. The berry blend, which was the most vibrant of purple/red hues, had a temperature like it had been in a freezer. It might as well have been, that’s how cold it was. It took me a few spoonfuls, and then after never having had a brain-freeze in my life (I’ve avoided it well) one early spoon dipped into the icy red blend had such an effect in my mouth, freezing my top teeth and nearly making me wince in pain, that I was forced to resort my spoons to teeny, tiny amounts, more nut and goji than blend, giving the whole thing time to defrost.

Still, I loved it.

It took me ages to eat – both because it is a decent bowl, and because my sensitive teeth. It looked something like this when I was done:

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So I guess you can say I was happy with my choice.

I finished up, and since I had already conveniently paid at the start, headed on out into the sunshine, and into the Mornington town life. Super-food ready.

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Food: 9/10. With only trying one meal, yet seeing all the other food being delivered out, and the amazing display up near the counter of slices, raw juices and lunch options, this place is the real deal, and one to be reckoned with in the raw/vegan/health food movement. Expect the words raw, vegan and organic, A LOT on the menu, and even one such meal, the recent Kimchi Pancake, had me scratching my head and going “What?” Still, I‘d love to try it.

Coffee: N/A on this visit, but going by the Chai Latte, I can’t bloody wait to give their beans a try. Their range of juices, smoothies and health shots sound incredible to this caffeinated girl too.

Update! Coffee is smooth. Slightly strong. Very, very nice.

Can I give a score when it wasn’t tried on my first visit there (my foodie review prerequisite)? What the hell…

9/10. 🙂

Ambience: Really chilled and mellow. It was breakfast time after all. There was easy-going music in the background that not even a pair of two cute (and rowdy) kids could shake the demeanour of, but I have a feeling this laid-back vibe prevails throughout the day.

Staff: There was no over-the-top friendliness here – not to say that anyone was mean, but you know, they are in the business. The business of making sure the cardamom pods in your chai latte are about to burst from plumpness, you know? No time for chit-chat-chai.

People: The prime real estate of the Peninsula. I was pleased to see that I wasn’t the only one dining alone. Quite a few loners came in for their take-away drinks, many drank/ate opposite the counter, and then there were the custom friends with kids meeting, an uptight couple here and there, and your rich but super-nice gentleman type who came by to sip his espresso on a nearby stool, before tipping his hat to the playful youngster nearby and then going off to God-knows where to talk property and stocks with his investor friends… you know… the usual kind…

Price: $21:00 for the lot. Considering I walked away feeling like a superwoman after all of those supercharged superfoods, it was a bargain. Well worth the money spent.

Advice: If your teeth detest icy things, or it’s Winter, perhaps skip the Acai bowl. In Summer though, go for it. Sitting on a crate out front is the gold-medal position, what with the breeze blowing over the sea-spray from down the road.

In a nutshell: A place I would definitely go back to, and one that I hope to make a regular one, a reliable go-to in years to come. I’m glad there is a café catering to this niche market, because not only does it attract those who may have certain food allergies, but it brings forth the health-conscious, organically minded consumer, the one who wants to feel good, and try something different in the process.

It’s worth 15 visits for sure. Actually, 16… it’s my lucky number 😉

Store Fifteen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Spanish Beach House

Casa de Playa
39 Main Street Mornington

(Visited April ’17)

The reason we ended up at this restaurant on a Tuesday night in early April was pure chance. Sure, our intention was to eat out, we just didn’t know where we would do it.

And then, parking right out the front happened, and Hubbie had to ‘go,’ like immediately.

And so our night was born.

Dining at a Spanish tapas restaurant didn’t require much discussion or twisting of our arms though. Tapas, Barcelona and May, many many many years ago, was a firm memory in our minds, and had been the first, and one of our best, honeymoon destinations. We could rekindle the romance again, but this time, with baby girl in tow.

We were seated right near the middle bar, which was an expansive work of art in itself, that had copper pipes and barrels hanging significantly above our heads, which left us wondering ‘are they for real? Or a gimmick?’ Tiling against the wall behind the bar gave it that little village feel, and the suspended lightbulbs brought it in line with every other contemporary café doing the suspended lightbulb thing at the mo. I don’t knock it, despite its over-abundance wherever you go. In fact, I love it. People were sprinkled throughout the café, and with the front windows open and inviting, it gave it a real casual, all inclusive, spill-out-into-the-street Barcelona-style vibe, however it also left us cold on that cool Autumn night.

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IMAG3578So to warm up, alcohol.

How could I possibly bypass a traditional recipe Sangria, after I had had so many night after night in one of our fave holidays destinations? And a recipe that had been passed down generation to generation, this I had to try. Hubbie, had a schooner of Fat Yak

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The sangria had that distinctive spice, and was fresh enough to disguise any strong alcoholic elements.

After perusing the menu for a long while, and discussing it with two waiters who were attending to us that night (one a male, the other one a woman who appeared more managerial-like) we decided we’d order food and try it as we went along, before deciding what was next. First up on the agenda:

Smoked eggplant dip – charred Turkish flat bread

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This was brought over, large pieces of toasted bread with a lovely and not-too-overwhelming eggplant dip. The smokiness was noted, but not too strong. The bread was a tad too toasted for me, you know, the cut-your-gums-on-bread type texture.

This soon came alongside baby girl’s Calamari and Chips

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I didn’t really think she would eat any of the rings, and sure enough when she tried it they were a tad too stringy for her. But it was only another tapas meal for us to peck on, and kept us satiated until the next items arrived.

Croquettas – manchego, piquillo, mojo

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And, the Pulled Pork Cubano cigar – coffee ash, mojo

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Though we shared the croquettas, Hubbie primarily had the Cubano cigar, albeit one bite which I indulged in. I don’t know the ingredients even though they are listed above, other than to say the inside was soft. Likewise with the eggplant dip, they both had a decent kick of smokiness once again, which I didn’t mind one bit. They were both moorish.

After all of this, we were surprisingly feeling 60% there – what with pick at this, pick at that, nibble here, and nibble there, and ‘hey I’m almost full!’ But we had one more thing that we had to try, and Hubbie being a massive coriander fan, and myself having become much predisposed to it lately, we had

Charcoal roasted chicken tacos – grilled corn, quinoa, roquette, coriander, jalapeno crema

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I liked the simple, fresh and quite pretty presentation, and it was just that, very enjoyable. It was a very light meal, and definitely meant to be had alongside other tapas, due to its small yet delicious portion. Herbs, cream and smokiness, alongside the textured grilled corn, all jumped out on the palate, and it was a meal I would definitely revisit on any other occasion too.

During the evening, baby girl only ventured to the toilets only about, say 3-4 times. Life with a toddler, you just need to take them seriously every time they say they have to go. But, it wasn’t so much an issue. Hubbie had told us to use the upstairs toilets, (remember his early visit?) accessible via winding stairs, since they were spacious and so much more nicer than the small one located around the corner and opposite the kitchen.

This bathroom was lush, with lovely white and new spaces, a huge selection of toilets (you won’t be left wanting here), luxury hand-wash products, and one of those airplane sounding hand dryers that scares the beejesus out of small babies, but is way too much fun for a 3 year-old toddler.

Anyway, in amongst all this, I had looked at the menu way in advance, and decided almost from the moment we left home (I know we didn’t even know where we were going, right?) that we were GOING TO HAVE FOR DESSERT:

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Churros – 54% Valrhona chocolate, Vespa’s crème catalan ice cream

And shock horror, as baby girl and I returned back to the table after one such toilet visit, Hubbie had already started eating the churros. Without us.

Dum da dum dum.

Also you should know, we got some other things too…

Some short macchiatos, and a babycino

After I forgave Hubbie his slight in starting without us (but in a way I couldn’t really blame him – if that image of sweetness were staring at me, I would not be able to hold back either), baby girl and I dug in, however she was much more interested in her marshmallow and the milk and white chocolate buttons she had received.

The churros were crisp and as expected, and the short macchiato exceptionally strong. Baby girl also totally took over in the ice cream eating department, and I loved the shout-out to their Main street neighbour, using Vespa’s ice cream alongside the Spanish signature dessert. It’s so overwhelming, I can’t even handle the camaraderie.

Fuelled on milk and sugar, once baby girl started counting the 1000 tiles up against the bar, loudly, we knew it was time to go.

Food: 8.5/10. Exciting, fresh and different. A blend of international and modern.

Coffee: 7.5/10. Ahem, strong! I’m used to my frothy caps, and yet I didn’t have one that night because I wasn’t feeling it for the milk. Hard to judge, but it was smooth as well as tough.

Ambience: Very relaxed and cas, but in a trendy and upmarket way.

People: Couples and friends were dining out predominantly. Ages up to late 30s seemed to prevail.

Staff: Both our male waiter, and the managerial-like female tending to us that night were really lovely, but the female, more so. She was a natural and totally cool with baby girl, which always puts us at ease. They explained the tapas format really well and let us do as we please, menu-selection wise.

Price: $109.10 all up. Lots of little meals, but little meals still add up! That was for 3 alcoholic drinks, a kids meal, 5 small/sharing plates, as well as dessert and 3 coffees. Still, not too bad, and the quality was up there.

Advice: If the windows are open on a cool night, try to sit out the back of the restaurant.

When you go to the loo, venture upstairs!

Try the chicken taco (if you don’t like coriander scratch that).

Have the sangria (if you say you don’t like sangria why the hell are you even going to a tapas place???)

In a nutshell: Creativity, combustion of food, and fresh flavours make this an exciting and inventive place to be. We did the light, tapas-style meal this time, maybe the huge Paella to share might be next on the agenda. With the blend of Spanish influence with a modern contemporary taste, on the main street so close to Port Phillip Bay, this place is one Beach House that I will definitely say Hola to again.

Casa de Playa Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Off the wall

Off The Boat
203 Edwardes Street Reservoir

(Visited March ’16)

It was a lovely Autumn’s day in mid-March that had us deciding to lunch at this restaurant/café of European origins:) I had been to Edwardes Park Lake across the road with my parents and baby girl, trying to take advantage of as much park/mild weather/grandparent/bonding time as I could. It was all too easy to wander over to the edge of the park and cross the road to Off The Boat, on the corner of Edwardes and Spratling street.

I had wanted to come here many times already, but the right opportunity had never presented itself. It seemed very quiet from the outside, there wasn’t anyone eating out there, but upon entry I was surprised to see that there were already quite a few lunchtime diners. We took a table near the back of the café with a booth, so baby girl could jump up and down as she pleased.

It’s a small café/restaurant, with an ice cream/gelati section up the front near the register, alongside the coffee machine. It’s cosy and homely, making you feel like you may be somewhere at Nonna’s house, rather than a corner café in Reservoir. I immediately warmed to it.

We didn’t have to wait long to receive our food, all of us sharing

The Capricciosa – tomato, mozzarella, ham, olives, mushrooms

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And the Patatine Fritte – potato chips

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We were all in unison over our opinion of the pizza. It was a light and thin base, yet still the generosity of the pizza toppings made it incredibly moorish. Being a thin base, made it easy to eat, and we polished off the whole thing between the 4 of us! The chips were golden and upon arrival very hot, which made it hard to explain to a hungry baby girl who kept bringing it to her lips too soon, but I personally love food extra hot, I don’t know but it just emphasises the ‘fresh’ factor.

My Mum said the pizza was really good too, and said they had done something different with the base, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. My Mum being an old-style cook, and a self-proclaimed detective, does not give out points so easily, always saying that everything home-cooked is better. It’s true. But the fact that she gave credit here, I thought was enormous. The pizzas do come out of a wood-fire oven, so I don’t know how much that has to do with it… but oh my God they were good.

After our food we had some coffees. Cappuccinos and babycino

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I particularly liked their own personal addition of a sweet Italian cube of cake placed beside the coffees we received. Very clever. The cake was nice, and I don’t know why I was surprised, but I was, as the coffee was quite good.

Because of the company and the weather, the food and coffee, the day had turned out exceptionally well! I went up to the counter to pay and continue our damn fine day.

Food: 8.5/10. It’s not just your average, run-of-the-mill Italian café. This place has heart and quality, and it showed in what we received that day and the subsequent surroundings.

Coffee: 8/10.

Ambience: If you’re not Italian and you don’t know how it would feel like to be in Nonna’s house, well just picture yourself in a little café on a side-street in Italy, and if you haven’t been there, just use your damn imagination. Cute, warm, ethnic. Really homely surrounds, makes you feel at ease straight away.

People: There was a mix of people but there were duos all around – tradie duos, friends meeting over lunch duos, and older duos. I think it’s a lot of locals coming in, but with the fare provided I wouldn’t be surprised if people came from much further afield to enjoy this fantastic eatery.

Staff: Friendly and warm. Our waitress wasn’t hanging over our table but when we called on her she was accommodating.

Price: $35-ish for all our food, which I considered fairly reasonable since it was shared and had fed 4 of us, and then we had gotten caffeinated too.

Advice: Go across the road to Edwardes Park Lake first, then once you’ve exhausted yourself walking, jumping around on the playgrounds, or chasing unruly children, give yourself a break (and your entourage too) by walking across the road and having an afternoon of fine Italian fare. You won’t be sorry.

Regarding seating, if you have older kids, it’s fine to sit outdoors, however with toddlers I’d advise you stay inside… there is a kind of enclosure separating the street from the outside eating area, but with a fairly main road RIGHT THERE on the doorstep of the café, I wouldn’t want to risk it, would you? No. That’s perhaps the only downfall, so staying indoors is the safe option.

In a nutshell: I really loved this place, and my eyes widened when upon paying they feasted upon the wide range of ice creams on offer. Hmmm, I set a plan into motion.

Step 1: Convince Hubbie to have a park day on the next sunny day.

Step 2: Go to Edwardes Park Lake with Hubbie and baby girl, and get them both really tired and hungry – tips: let him catch her (encourage her to chase ducks); he pushes her on the swing as I conveniently step back; she makes him partake in all the playground activities (after I whisper to her to pull Dada along to do everything with her).

Step 3: “Oh, would you look at that! A café! And it’s lunchtime. Gee, are you hungry?” (Baby girl will be so hungry and irritable by this stage that driving home 15 minutes will be like hell on earth – only option, EAT NOW).

Step 4: Eat food at Off The Boat. Drink coffee. Then buy ice cream and take to park to eat there and have more fun.

Step 5: Great park/café day concluded.

😉

These guys may be Off The Boat, but they certainly brought all the good stuff with them.

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Off the Boat Pizzeria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sun Room Buffet

The Conservatory
Level 1 Crown Entertainment Complex, 8 Whiteman Street Southbank

Something about the word ‘buffet,’ just makes you drool that little bit more. Is it the thought of an endless amount of food on offer for the one price? Is it the thought that rather than agonise over the seemingly endless food choices in the menu, you can try a little bit of everything? Or are we a gluttonous breed that just wants to nom nom nom?

Does anyone actually realise that our stomachs can never digest more than our eyes can absorb?

With high hopes of a banquet feast, we ventured off to The Conservatory on a Sunday for lunch, to celebrate our 6 year wedding anniversary. Awww. I had booked in advance, and upon arrival we were immediately seated at a table with high chair for baby girl ready and waiting. Superb.

The room was amazing. We weren’t seated near the windows, but even so you could see the city skyscrapers and the Yarra River below. Sun room indeed. It was an amazing location. The interior had great high cathedral-like ceilings, and though everything, from the white décor to the staff presentation to the customers themselves, were of a very high and poshy standard, there was a warmth to the atmosphere too. Maybe it was the surprise of the glorious sun shining through on that Autumn day.

It was a very nice feeling to know we were going to be there for the next few hours.

Our lunch buffet session was to last from 12:15 – 3:00pm. I had plans to have little plates and try to taste a little bit of most of the dishes on offer there. I certainly couldn’t try a bit of everything, not only because not everything is to taste, but really? It would be a difficult job stomaching too many flavours together.

As I haven’t food-blogged recently, and having the wonderful bonus of our daughter getting cranky in her high chair, I forgot to photo my first dish. So I kind of had it again for this posts’ sake.

Following are the photos I took on the day, with some brief descriptions.

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My lovely wine, with the unmistakable white background and Hubbie’s meal.

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No I don’t eat prawns, cheese and bread together – the bread and cheese were for baby girl. The prawns were lovely and fresh, really enjoyable.

She didn’t like the cheese, I think it was a bit of a rich, heavier cheddar, so I later brought back bocconcini which she loved.

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I had a kind of sweet chilli chicken salad, which had a decent kick to it – I liked that. I had a few rice paper rolls, which also had a bit of bite due to the lemongrass I think, and I chose those specific ones because I was on a prawn-fest and was craving seafood.

The sushi had cucumber and prawn with some kind of paste, and also not pictured I tried a mussel which had spicy oil flavours drizzled over it. All were great. I was surprised how much I enjoyed the chicken salad though, considering there were no carbs in it.

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I next had food from the Indian/Asian station, which comprised of vegetable and pork dumplings with soy sauce, a spicy papaya salad, tandoori chicken, a mild potato curry, and I think what was saffron rice.

I loved the vegetable dumplings – I should have gotten more of those. The papaya salad surprised me too with its spices, whereas the chicken, potato curry and rice were warm and comforting.

By this stage I had had 4 plates. Some were small, some comprised of light seafood, but still four plates equalled a bit of consumption. I took that opportunity to give myself a needed food break and try to find a change room for baby girl.

*Parents, take note.* By all means, take your nappy-wearing children out with you, everywhere, anywhere you dine, much like we do… just be advised that if eating at the Conservatory, you will have to jump on a golf buggy to find the nearest suitable toilets.

I went through two levels before I found a very kind Crown employee who discovered there was a baby change table in the disabled toilets of The Waiting Room, one ground below Conservatory. Take note parents!

It was probably a good half hour by the time I came back to the table, to see Hubbie brimming with happiness over his half-eaten smorgasbord of a dessert plate, telling me he’d just ordered a latte. So I had to catch up.

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So did baby girl.

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Above dessert plate: A raspberry tart, brownie, goats cheese cheesecake, macaroons, and some fruit with chocolate-dipped strawberries in the middle.

And I seriously thought I was going to go back for more! I couldn’t. The dessert station was a work of art in itself, my God. There were so many things I wanted to try, that I just couldn’t after I’d finished my plate… sigh.

I actually enjoyed my raspberry tart the most, although everything tasted great. Baby girl had bits of dessert here and there as well as some fruit, and then of course she had her babycino which looked great.

My coffee was great too, a much needed finishing-line drink after all that food.

Apart from the day being a celebration of when Hubbie and I exchanged vows to each other, it ended up being surprisingly punctuated by more nostalgia when I discovered that my high school homegroup teacher was eating with his family for a birthday celebration, just two tables over. I haven’t seen him for 13 years, yet we recognised each other almost immediately! It was a happy addition to a wonderful day, and it was great to see again, one of the people who positively impacted me during those crucial high school years too. What a (not) coincidence 😉

Food: 8/10. A lot of it, of a great standard, and very fresh. I almost find this difficult to rate, and explain, because usually when you eat at a restaurant you have chosen a meal that has most times been created by the chef, a meal that should be a wonderful balance and/or contradiction of flavours that dance in your mouth and that leaves you feeling satisfied, happy you ate there, and amazed at the creativity of the dish. When you dine at a buffet, YOU create the way your dish looks, YOU decide what is going to go with what and at the end of the day YOU are the responsible one for what you have eaten. Singularly, the dishes at the Conservatory were consistently great-tasting and the presentation of their food in the stations and of the stations themselves, was amazing. It’s the only food-presentation they are in control of, before we come in slap it on our plates and upload it online to show off to our friends.

Coffee: 7/10. Smooth. We discovered that the first round of coffees was free (part of the price you’re already paying really) when you are lunching there, with any subsequent coffee rounds at an additional price. With a coffee/foam each, we left happy about that.

Ambience: Really lovely. Everything looks so polished and refined, the staff breeze on by, and the people dining there are all dressed up and looking so smart… it’s an upmarket buffet experience. With views of the city coming at you through the windows, you kind of lean back in your seat and go “ahh, I could get used to this.”

Staff: Fantastic, accommodating, which I expected nothing less considering the establishment and price we paid. Our waitress in particular was really kind and friendly, explaining everything to us on arrival, and tending to our needs and baby change requests 🙂

People: There were those celebrating milestones like us, and then there were those that are so rich they rocked up an hour into service and left earlier than everyone else because they do it once a month. Generally an older crowd, I would say 30 +. A few families though, and many large groups of people, it seems to be a social gathering meeting ground.

Price: Our Sunday lunch was $95 pp. We ended up paying $212 in total with my $10 wine and Hubbie’s $12 beer. $12 for Crown?! Get your wallets ready drinkers. Children under 4 do not pay, which is great seeing as most toddlers appetites are so all over the place. (I think children 4-12 years pay 50% of the adult price). Baby girl enjoyed her bread, cheese, cheesy pita bread and bits of vegies, and of course the cake. There are things to suit the kiddies, don’t worry, especially from the dessert station – make your own ice cream cone? Hell yeah even I’ll do that!

Advice: Book in advance, no matter what. I booked 6 days in advance and lucky I did, as I hadn’t realised the Logies were on that night at the Crown! Booking wasn’t an issue though.

As for the food, I would suggest two things.

1: eat the things you like, whether they are a tired and true favourite, like in my case the fresh prawns, and the vegetable dumplings. Eat a lot of them too.

2: try different and interesting things that you have always wanted to try. I know this is in contradiction to the above point, but if you take these two things on board, you’ll leave happier. For example, I had the saffron rice, the sushi and then the macaroons for dessert – all great items which I enjoyed, but these three things I eat quite regularly, and if we’re being honest, they tasted about as good as all the other times I ate them. I was happy I tried the spicy chicken salad, because it was a different dish for me, however I wish I had also tried some of the Asian stir-fry and noodle dishes. It had been my intention, I just got too full and then it was dessert time. Also, rather than the macaroons, I should have tried one of the other magical looking sweet treats… you just gotta check out that food station. Food for thought.

In summary of the above, eat what you like but that which you don’t get to eat often!

In a nutshell: I would love to go back. They cater for dinner and breakfast as well, so you can always find a suitable time to buffet there. Taking my above two points in mind, I would go back with a vengeance. A beautiful food-lovers experience.

Conservatory on Urbanspoon

Custard at the Corner Store

Red Door Corner Store
70 Mitchell Street Northcote

Our fair yet weather-unpredictable city allowed Autumn to put on its finest show as I ventured along to the tucked away Northcote café, off the busy High street one Saturday in late May.

The weather was mild as it had uncharacteristically been the last few weeks, yet the season was evident, in the picturesque leaves lying scattered around each tree lined up on all sides of the street surrounding the corner café, with hues of green, yellow and orange colouring the ground.

Although not far from the busy High street, there was a strong neighbourhood and tucked-away vibe as I happily discovered parking not too far from the corner store, and realised with even more relief that there were no parking meters. What? I had even bought my stash of loose change just for the occasion. That would go back into my coffee change tin thanks.

The woman passing me with her milk as I set off with baby girl in pram, saying a friendly “hello,” only added to the lovely everybody-knows-your-name feel. And how true it is, don’t you wanna go. Tick and tick.

Arriving as I do everywhere with pram, I was happy to see there was only the slightest step leading into the café where my friend was waiting for me. However backing into the busy and crowded place was another story, and it was only after a polite woman waiting for her coffee held the door open for me that I was able to actually get both me and my girl in.

I’d happily read a review before going there that seating and parking were plentiful. Parking, yes. Seating? Not with pram. Maybe the reviewer meant the amount of seating, rather than the space surrounding the seating. I’d wondered if perhaps, on a lovely Saturday Autumnal morning, we should have phoned ahead. Inside it was tight with my pram, and only after shifting spots after a more abundant amount of space became available, did I become more at ease. There was seating out the front of the cafe, which would have been good, and my friend visited the loo which was out the back, where there was also more seating – apparently that was packed.

Get to the damn food, you say! Well I had the lovely
Brioche French toast, baked quince, rosewater custard, pistachio praline.

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To no fault of their own, I ate my meal lukewarm because I tended to baby girl’s own food of apple and pear puree for a good while, after she stopped with her “mmm!”s. (Means more). Even so, it was slightly warm, the custard rosewater with quince, all melting together in the middle of the brioche. Not too sweet for brekkie, so it didn’t leave me with that sick feeling making me feel like I should have gone the savoury brunch route. It had praline that almost immediately reminded me of the praline atop the never-forget blueberry pancakes I had at Dukes sometime in the year 2012. Yes, I still remember. And the pistachio was sharp and crunchy, sweet, candied even? Yummo indeed.

My cappuccino was ok, it was only warm once I got to it (again, no fault of theirs) and as any Mum would attest to, the experience of drinking a fresh hot coffee while in a busy café entertaining your little one is akin to keeping your brand spankin’ new white heels clean on a rainy day. However my friend did tell me her first coffee before my arrival was cold, so her second was ordered ‘extra hot,’ and was happily, so she reported. I’ll forgive them for the lukewarm coffee, if only for the fact that the beans are Proud Mary’s.

I did love how virtually everything on the menu was using ingredients sourced from around our beautiful state. Massive bonus points in my book. Little pegs held descriptions of sandwiches and tarts in one display case, while another row of cute peg-descriptors (we’ll go with that) were in a cute row in front of the cash register, tempting you to cheekily go “oh, I’ll have one of those too please!” regarding the delicious cupcakes on offer. I resisted, my brekkie was sweet. And they were presented in a lovely looks-like-it-came-from-a-second-hand-shop chic jewellery display case. Kewl.

The only slightly annoying thing was when it came time to pay up front, the guy putting through our order took just a tad long, especially when he went away and came back with a whole bag of cash to put into his till. Fair enough mate, busy Saturday and all. However he took sooo long doing it, almost like there wasn’t a 6 person line behind me (and that took up half the space in the café). Maybe they’re going for the ‘look how busy we are look’ and want a line like that… but it was like that pretty much the whole time we were there.

Food: 8/10

Coffee: 7/10 (Points removed because food/coffee was lukewarm – not their fault I know – but it did remove from the experience, and I can’t give points for what could have been).

Ambience: Noisy, which suited me just fine with my girl doing a few rounds of vocal acrobatics.

Staff: Friendly and accommodating, especially with helping us move seats, answering our ingredient queries politely and offering ‘side’ options (when I wasn’t sure on going the ‘savoury’ route and was considering removing avocado from a meal – I like it, it just doesn’t like me), and of course anyone who comments on how cute my girl is gets extra ticks.

People: Mix of uni students, lovely people who moved out of my way with my pram (it’s all about the pram don’t you know), couples, and quite a few with little-ies, but those that were already walking. There was an older couple there, who fortunately left and gave us the fantastic seating when we moved. Cyclists came in too, and went straight for the paper hanging over the ladder near me. Checking if Autumn will keep up? Who knows.

Price: All up my meal was $19.60. Under 20 and it’s a great feed especially with the quality of the food on offer.

Advice: If going at a busy time of day (or just a busy day, like a weekend) maybe phone ahead. I saw a table with a reserved sign, so fairly sure that means they take bookings. Also, if you have a pram (or a posse, you may be P. Diddy) it’d be good for them to give you a spacious spot. We got lucky. If you’re a coffee snob (and let’s face it all the best people are) order your coffee extra hot. And lastly, ask for them to bring the bill to the table, and then let them pick up your tab so you don’t have to wait in a line up the front – unless you want to be tempted by the cupcakes. You do, don’t you?

In a nutshell, will I go back?: The café has character, sources local ingredients, has great parking close by, and I wouldn’t mind relocating to one of the many beautiful Edwardian houses nearby. Looking forward to going back with Hubbie.

Red Door Corner Store on Urbanspoon

My whole life I’ve been living a Season’d Lie

A few weeks ago while taking a leisurely Autumn walk around my neighbourhood, paper cup harbouring warm coffee firmly in my hand as I pushed the pram with the other, it suddenly hit me:
It was all a lie.

I don’t think I fall into the unusual category when I say that the weather impacts majorly on my moods. I live for warm days spent outside in the sunshine, doing absolutely anything at all, as long as it leads to sun blindness to the point that re-entering any interior results in having green vision for about 30 seconds. And on the flipside, I once worked with a guy who expressed that his hatred for Winter led to him wanting to hibernate throughout the entire season. I could certainly feel for him. In my opinion the only time cold weather is good, is when you don’t have to leave the house, with your only job to stay cuddled on the couch drinking warm teas. In that world where time stands still and your life waits for you to get ready – yeah right.

So I was there, walking with coffee as I often do, when I realised just how much I was loving Autumn. It had started out as the kind of sunny day that still made you reach for your jacket with the freshness of a Winter’s chill soon approaching, however as the midday sun beat down on me I was able to remove my jacket, and really enjoy the sensations, sights and sounds that this season had to offer.

Yes, we were having an unseasonably warm Autumn. Weather reports constantly declared new records being broken, and the fact that Winter was so near and yet the weather was pretty damn acceptable, was further proof of that.

But no, it wasn’t just that this Autumn was better than previous ones. I thought of Spring, and then ‘Summer,’ and thought ‘lies, lies, lies.’

Look, this is how it goes: (in case this is the first thing you’ve ever read and you have no idea about climate)

Winter: June, July, August
Spring: September, October, November
Summer: December, January, February
Autumn: March, April, May

Right? Wrong.

I guess this June it’s a bit of an exception, with El Nino or whatever warm spell it is that’s going to be passing over Melbourne making it a warmer than normal Winter, but then again I think ‘ever year it’s a freaking exception!’ With Melbourne weather, biggest joke ever. We’ve had a warm Autumn, and now we’re expecting a warm-er than normal Winter.

This is how it should really go:

Winter: the very end of June, July, first half of August
Little Winter (aka Winter but with more sun): second half of August, September, October, start of November
Spring: end of November, December up to Christmas time
Summer: New Years (it’s always 30 degrees+ at clock striking twelve point), January
Big Summer (aka mother-f!*king scorching Summer): February, start of March
Autumn: end of March, April, May
Win-tumn (aka false pretences Winter that makes you think ‘this Winter won’t be so bad, it’s so sunny…’ then BAM!): start of June

I’m just hoping that this El Nino dude sticks around for a while so this Winter is much more bearable than others. Having said that, being on maternity leave and all, and not having to get up for work like poor Hubbie, I can’t whinge too much. Winter is so freaking bad when you’re getting up five in the morning, and shivering in the car waiting for it to warm up 20 minutes later in the darkness, then walking to work, in the cold, and darkness…

How I miss that, NOT.

I look forward to the warmer months so much, I find I end up starting to dread Winter as early as January, while we’re still in the midst of actual Summer (according to my new climate guide) to the point where sometimes, I can’t even enjoy Summer. Horrific I know. And then at other times, I’m often so peaking in fantastic stinking heat, I have to think hard to remember how it feels like to be cold, and shivering, and even ask myself the stupid, stupid question: “is Winter really that cold?”

Fast forward to today and putting on the heater 6 times during the day. Yes, yes it is.

I hate knowing Winter is just around the corner, knowing it’s ‘coming for me;’ yet when it’s here, there’s almost a sense of relief, like ‘ok, let’s get this over with.’

I’ve survived the first 9 days of Winter, so I should be ok. Sorry, I mean Win-tumn.